Spring is finally upon us and what better time to have a good clear out and revitalise your surroundings. We’ve been doing the same here – our new season of exhibitions was launched on Saturday with an insightful display of work by photographer Marian Delyth.
Aberystwyth-born Marian, has worked as a free-lance photographer and graphic designer in her studio in Blaenplwyf since 1982. Her work can be seen in numerous publications and she has won many awards. Although one constant theme throughout the years has been the recording of campaigns: Self – determination, the right to live through the medium of the Welsh language, concerns about the environment , The Peace movement and CND all feature in this strong collection of images.
Marian Delyth, Cysgod / Shadow, 2003
The exhibition 60: Photographs by Marian Delyth can be seen here until the 14th June and forms part of a broader range of exhibitions celebrating women’s contribution to art and literature.
Women in Art (18 January – 5 April) – showcased some of the Library’s finest collection of art by women, whilst Words and Pictures: Women in Welsh Children’s Literature (8 March – 28 February 2015), explores the contribution of several authors to Welsh Literature such as Winnie Parry, Moelona, Elizabeth Watkin Jones, Jennie Thomas, Mary Vaughan Jones and Emily Huws.
On Monday we opened our new Chaucer exhibition
to coincide with a conference at the Library organised by the School of English at Bangor University. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see manuscripts and publications from the collection of the Library and medieval artefacts from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Cardiff. The exhibition tells the story of the Canterbury Tales exploring the themes of pilgrimage, sex and death through the protagonists the Wife of Bath and Pardoner.
The Wife of Bath, Alison, had five husbands and made marriage her business. She is not afraid to argue her case that remarriage is acceptable and that women should be in charge in marriage, even if this goes against the medieval Church’s teachings about the position of women, sex and marriage. Alison made money from her marriages: her first three husbands were old and rich, and when they died, they left her their wealth. The last two were much younger and she married them for love. The Wife of Bath was a medieval feminist well before ‘girl power’, and I think she would most definitely approve of our new exhibitions…
Who would have thought that one of the greatest treasures of English literature resides at Aberystwyth?Over 600 years ago, renowned English poet Geoffrey Chaucer died without having completed his great masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. It is believed that the earliest manuscript containing his work now resides at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, penned by Adam Pinkhurst, Chaucer’s very own scribe. The Library has now published the entire work online for the very first time.
The so called ‘Hengwrt Chaucer’ is a substantial manuscript volume produced in London at the very end of the fourteenth century. Along with the more elaborately illustrated Ellesmere Chaucer, which was purchased by the Huntington Library and exported to California in 1917, the Hengwrt manuscript represents an early and close association with the poet himself, and reflects the earliest attempts to circulate his Tales in London. The revelation of the scribe’s identity following painstaking research by scholar Linne Mooney in 2006 has elevated the importance of the Aberystwyth manuscript, and added considerably to its value.According to Dr Aled Gruffydd Jones, Librarian and Chief Executive of The National Library of Wales:
‘It is a continuous source of astonishment and pride to me that one of the treasures of English literature is housed here in Wales, and at the National Library. The presence of this masterpiece underlines the status of this institution as a centre of international importance for research and knowledge. It is with delight that we share these new digital images with our global users.’
The publication of the images coincides with a season of celebrations of Chaucer’s work at the National Library. Visitors to Aberystwyth will be able to view the original Hengwrt manuscript of the Tales in a special exhibition, alongside other rare Chaucerian items, including another manuscript penned by Adam Pinkhurst.
A conference on 14-16 April, organised by the School of English at Bangor University, will attract an international body of scholars and students to the National Library at Aberystwyth to re-examine the significance of Chaucer’s work, and the role of Chaucerian manuscripts across time.
Dr Sue Niebrzydowski of Bangor University’s School of English said:
‘It has been an absolute pleasure to have been involved in a project that has made such digital images of this important copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales freely available to all. Chaucer’s tales, told by an interesting assortment of tellers, hold something for everyone. The stories range from tales about mechanical brass horses, to chickens who act as if they were knights and ladies, and, very appropriately for Aberystwyth this year, making coastal rocks disappear in extremely high tides!’
Images of the Hengwrt Chaucer
The exhibition, ‘To tell a story: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales’, is open 29 March – 14 June 2014.
Welsh Landscapes / Tirlun Cymru is organised as a tour of Wales. Beginning with the mountainous landscapes of the north, the visitor is taken on a visual journey, from Kyffin Williams’s images of Snowdonia, through Thomas Jones (Pencerrig)’s series of views displayed in the home of the artist near Builth, to modern depictions of industrial south in Valerie Ganz’s picture Britton Ferry Steelworks (1977). Graham Sutherland’s unexpectedly spiky responses to the Pembrokeshire landscape provide a counterpoint to the Romantic face of Wales: two treasures of the Library’s collections, JMW Turner’s Dolbadarn Castle (1799-1800) and a preparatory sketch of Pembroke Castle by Richard Wilson are given prominent positions in the display.
Kyffin Williams, “Snowdon from Ty Obry”, c.1960s, oil on canvas, 120 x 140 cm, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
The selection of pictures in the exhibition demonstrates the familiarity and the strangeness of the Welsh landscape in equal measure. Karel Lek’s Parys Mountain (1970), an expressionistic work showing the copper quarries of Parys Mountain could not be more different to Kyffin’s Snowdon from Ty-Obry (c.1960) which hangs to its left. Its pictorial language- including broad strokes of copper and blue suggesting the mineral riches of its subject- differs greatly from its neighbour. Williams’s picture is familiar in its subject (the Snowdonia range) but unusual in its composition. This is wide-screen Kyffin, the distant mountains giving an uncharacteristic depth to the scene. Peaks and precipices do not loom over the viewer, but recede into the distance beneath a light blue sky. The subjects of each of these pictures lay about 30 miles from each other, the resultant pictures could not be more different.
Karel Lek, “Parys Mountain”, 1970, oil on board, 47 x 75 cm, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
At the other end of the exhibition/country, another set of pictures emphasise the passage of time affects a landscape as much as the distance between them. The geometric forms of David Carpanini’s South Wales Mining Village (1968) show the effect of industry on a landscape; uniform terraces beneath bald, rough hills. D. Alun Evans’s Bargoed and Aberbargoed (1999) show a very different, post-industrial landscape. In the left panel, nature has restored some green to the land around the A469, the black-grey of the central and right panels a reminder of the mining of the past. An ambiguous inscription: ‘looking down on phase 1’ reiterates the continuous change in the landscape, both natural and through industrial intervention.
The diversity of the exhibited pictures reflects the diversity of the Welsh landscape. Wales may be a small country, but as Raymond Williams reminds us, through its landscape
“it is not smallness we see; it is land and distance, familiarity and strangeness.”
[Williams, Raymond, (1979), ‘Introduction’ in: Stephens, M. (ed.) The Arts in Wales, 1950-1975, Cardiff: Arts Council for Wales. p.ii.]
The exhibition is open until 10 May 2014.
Lloyd Roderick (PhD Student Aberystwyth University / National Library of Wales (Kyffin Williams – Online)
Feeling a bit aimless and empty after the closure of our 4 Books exhibition? Grieve not, for Spring is in the air, and we celebrate the opening of the Library’s new exhibition of our earliest English manuscripts: ‘To tell a story: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales’.
The Hengwrt Gallery
Between 29 March and 14 June, visitors to the Library’s Hengwrt Gallery will be able to view our most famous English-language manuscript, the Hengwrt Chaucer. It is believed that this is the earliest surviving copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written before the author’s death in 1400 by his own scribe, Adam Pinkhurst. Shown alongside the manuscript will be other gems from our collections, including Chaucer’s Boece, also in Pinkhurst’s handwriting, and the remains of an enigmatic fifteenth-century copy of the Canterbury Tales, known as the ‘Merthyr Fragment’.
The Hengwrt Chaucer
The exhibition has been curated by Dr Sue Niebrzydowski of Bangor University, and her lunchtime presentation on 23 April, together with her gallery talks on 24 April, will give visitors the best possible introduction to Chaucer and his Tales, and to the characters of the Wife of Bath and Pardoner in particular.
Also coinciding with the exhibition will be an academic conference on Chaucer at the Library’s Drwm on 14-16 April, under the auspices of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies of Aberystwyth and Bangor Univeristies. This will bring scholars from far and wide to Aberystwyth for a fresh look at manuscripts of Chaucer’s works, and to explore new avenues of research in the digital realm.
The Pardoner an his fake relics
Other must-see events before the close the short Chaucer season will be a showing on 30 May of The Canterbury Tales, the film that won four Emmy Awards for outstanding individual achievement in animation, and finally a scholarly whodunnit: on 15 May, Professor Andrew Prescott of King’s College London will be reconsidering the case of Cecily Champagne, a baker’s daughter who promised in May 1380 not to prosecute Geoffrey Chaucer concerning allegations of ‘raptus’. Was the great medieval English storyteller a ‘dirty old man’? Come and explore London celebrity sleaze of the fourteenth century from the safe confines of our National Library!
Maredudd ap Huw
Our exhibition team are busy installing a new exhibition this week!
In collaboration with The Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor (IMEMS), the Library are hosting an exhibition showcasing one of the National Library’s greatest treasures: the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, believed by some to be the earliest extant text of this literary masterpiece. Other Chaucer items from the Library’s collections will be on display as well as objects from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.
Why not make the pilgrimage to the Library to see it…
29 March –14 June 2014
Chaucer Hengwrt Chaucer
A request for a post on our sport collection at the National Library provided an opportunity to explain our process of collecting current print material of Welsh interest to the library. Our aim is to collect comprehensively and ensure printed material reach the library through legal deposit, donation and purchase.
Firstly, most material of this kind reaches the library via legal deposit. The Legal Deposit Act 2003 entitles the National Library of Wales (as one of the five legal deposit libraries in the UK) to request a free copy of any book published in the United Kingdom within one year of publication.
It is usually the case that publications from the more traditional and established publishers reach the library without too much difficulty. Many books published in Wales will arrive via the Welsh Books Council and those titles published outside Wales usually reach us via the Agency for Legal Deposit Libraries in Edinburgh. Over the past 12 months, the following titles – Greatest Welsh Tries Ever (Gomer, 2013); 10 years of the Ospreys (Lolfa, 2013); All Black and Amber – 1963 and a Game of Rugby (Lolfa, 2013) have reached the library through this avenue.
The more ‘local’ publications are far more challenging to collect. Here, it is often the case of finding the information and then requesting a legal deposit copy from those who are often unaware of their legal deposit obligation. This has included claiming recent rugby club histories such as those on Tonna and Baglan rugby clubs. Furthermore, there are over fifty national governing bodies that regulate and organise their sports in Wales. We request strategic reports, annual reports and newsletters from these bodies helping us to ensure that the less traditional sports in Wales are also collected for the library.
Secondly, we purchase books. Our policy is to purchase a second copy of many Welsh interest books for our collections. Finally, we accept donations of items that are not held at the Library or that require a second copy. These are rather more diverse – a recent donation included annuals and handbooks on the smaller football leagues in Wales and are types of publications that have not reached us through the traditional route. Regrettably, we are not in a position to be able to collect everything that is published and of Welsh interest therefore we often need to be selective. For example, local football and rugby programmes are a field too large in scope therefore collecting ephemeral type of material is kept to a minimum.
Sport is seen as one of the symbols of Welsh identity and is a field that Wales often has independent representation. It is also an area of responsibility that is devolved to the National Assembly of Wales. Therefore, much collecting is done in this field and our aim is to ensure publications reach the National Library in order for this voice to be recorded in present and future research.
Recently the National Library acquired a copy of the New Testament in Welsh that was presented to the explorer Henry Morton Stanley on his wedding day held in Westminster Abbey. It bears the inscription “To Mr H.M. Stanley with much prayerful sympathy and best wishes from the Vale of Clwyd for July 12th, 1890.” Following this inscription there are three references to verses in the Bible: Isaiah liv, 10; Matthew x, 32; Acts ix, 23. I will let the reader decide how appropriate these are for a wedding occasion.
H. M. Stanley is remembered today for his greeting ‘Doctor Livingstone I presume’ on finding the explorer and missionary in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika in present day Tanzania. Whether this is a true account is another matter as Stanley was not averse to being economical with the truth.
In many ways he was and remains a very controversial figure. His attitude and treatment of the native African population has often been called into question. At one time he was in the service of the Belgian King, Leopold II. During his reign it is estimated that around 10 million Congolese were killed or mutilated.
He was born John Rowlands on 28 January 1841 in the town of Denbigh. His parents were poverty stricken as well as being unmarried, a stigma that weighed heavily on him. After spending a short time in St Asaph Workhouse, at the age of 18 he emigrated to the United States and created a new persona for himself. Stanley later tried to deny his Welsh roots but this was rather difficult as so many people in the Vale of Clwyd remembered him as a child amongst them. He was also very disparaging towards the language and culture of his country.
When he was invited to preside at the National Eisteddfod of Wales he sent a letter to his wife in which he expresses the following thoughts:
“The Eisteddfod, as I understand it, is for the purpose of exciting interest in the Welsh nationality and language. My travels in the various continents have ill-prepared me for sympathising with such a cause. If I were to speak truly my mind, I should recommend Welshmen to turn their attention to a closer study of the English language, literature and characteristics, for it is only by that training that they can hope to compete with their English brothers for glory, honour, and prosperity. There is no harm in understanding the Welsh language, but they should be told by sensible men that every hour they devote to it, occupies time that might be better employed in furthering their own particular interests …”
Not surprisingly he did not attend this event. It is therefore slightly ironic that he was presented with a volume in the Welsh language on his wedding day.
In three weeks time on 15 March 2014, the 4 Books: Welsh icons united exhibition at the National Library of Wales will close. Shortly afterwards, the iconic Red Book of Hergest will return to England, and to the stacks of the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
During the last six months, the Red Book has shared an exhibition case with other national treasures – the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Book of Taliesin, and the Book of Aneirin – in the National Library, for the very first time. Before this event, the Red Book has only once returned to Wales since its exile to Oxford in 1701, and it is not expected that it will cross the border again for many years.
Dr Maredudd a Huw, Manuscripts Librarian at the National Library stated that: ‘It will be sad to see this treasured item leaving Wales once more, but we are most grateful to Jesus College, Oxford and to the Bodleian Library, for readily agreeing to the loan of their manuscript. By having it here for six months, we have been able to present a “quartet” of the nation’s earliest literary treasures. It is the culmination of a dream to show visitors the best of our literature, gathered together for the very first time.’
The Red Book of Hergest contains treasured texts such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the Dream of Rhonabwy, a medicinal tract by the Physicians of Myddfai, and poems belonging to the saga of Llywarch the Old. The volume was compiled by a team of 3 scribes for Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion of Ynysforgan, near Swansea between 1382 and 1410. One of those scribes has been identified as Hywel Fychan ap Hywel Goch of Builth.
Dr Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library stated that: ‘It has been a delight to see four of the nation’s greatest treasure together in one place for the very first time. It has also been a delight to see so many visitors – from Wales and beyond, including many children – taking the opportunity to see this unique show. It has been a chance to celebrate the preservation of our native literature over the centuries, and the role of the Library today in preserving our manuscripts for the future.’
The 4 Books will be followed, from 29 March until 14 June 2014, with To tell a story: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales, an exhibition showcasing one of the National Library’s greatest treasures, the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Visitors will be able to view a manuscript believed by many to be the earliest extant version of this literary masterpiece, and to find an answer to the question of why it is here in Wales?
On 20 December 1863 the sailing ship the Indian Empire left Gravesend, bound for New Zealand. On board were some three hundred emigrants. One of these, John Griffith, kept a journal of the voyage. In 2012 this was purchased at auction by the National Library of Wales and is now NLW MS 24033D. The journal is an interesting record of an ocean voyage and its hardships but its writer remains something of a mystery. During my cataloguing of the journal I was unable to definitively pin down where he came from or what happened to him.
The story presented in the auction catalogues (the journal was sold at auction twice in recent years) is that Griffith died of scarlet fever during the voyage and was buried at sea, giving the volume a tragic edge. Certainly the journal ends abruptly on 10 February 1864, six weeks before reaching New Zealand.
However, newspaper reports in the ship’s destination of Port Lyttleton (available on the National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past website) fail to corroborate the story. For instance the ‘Shipping Intelligence’ report in the Lyttelton Times, 26 March 1864, p. 4, lists four passengers as having died on the journey (Griffith himself recorded one of these deaths on 26 January) but John Griffith is not one of them. A ‘Griffiths’ is listed, alive, among the passengers in the second cabin. The ship was quarantined for several days on arrival because one passenger was still ill with scarlet fever (could this have been him?). A later report notes the lifting of the quarantine. It fails to mention the sick passenger, so presumably he or she must have recovered. In which case John Griffith reached New Zealand safely, then vanished without trace.
I also failed to ascertain where he came from. The sales catalogues give his home as Bangor, Caernarvonshire, and he mentions the Penrhyn Quarry in the journal. We also know his exact age – he recorded his 21st birthday in the journal on 5 February 1864. However it proved too difficult to pin down the right John Griffith from the many in the Bangor area.
Can you help us find John Griffith? Does anybody out there know where he came from? Maybe you’re a descendant of his? (Ideally in New Zealand!) Failing that, can you suggest other avenues of inquiry? Have I missed something obvious? It’s over to you!
At the Swiss Boarder
It was a cold January morning. I sat in my hotel room in London at 5.00am with nervous anticipation for the phone to ring, awaiting instruction of my mission. Sounds very James Bond, but in fact this is a day in the life of a courier. At 6am I was due to commence an epic journey across Europe by truck to transport some very important paintings to Bern, Switzerland.
The National Library lends items to other museums and galleries throughout the UK and the world. On this occasion, the Library along with other institutions such as Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, lent a number of exquisite watercolours by the Swiss artist Samuel Heironymous Grimm to the Kunst Museum in Bern.
Traveling around the globe with the nations cultural heritage may sound glamorous, but being a courier calls for hard work, stamina, patience, a level head and the ability to foresee problems. Two days across Europe via truck is tiring, and I learned many things during this particular trip:
1. Take plenty of reading material and an audio book, delays at borders can last for several hours and conversation runs dry with the drivers after the first couple.
2. Antibacterial hand gel is a must for anyone with an OCD like myself- especially when you are sharing facilities with other truck drivers!
3. Courier trips are a test of endurance – expect to be bright eyed and bushy-tailed at all times of the day and night.
4. Don’t expect to take in the sights – time to take a break is very rare and even then you’re too occupied with planning for what might go wrong.
But I have to admit the life of a courier is exciting, especially when you have the satisfaction of arriving home safely and knowing that your mission was successful.
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